In the next few years, the United States plans to spend at least a trillion dollars on a frantic new arms race because the public has been led to believe that the Soviet Union has achieved military superiority.
It isn't so, of course, but what seems to matter is not the fact but the myth. It is obvious that the militarists are winning the propaganda battle: the more measured forces of restraint are being drowned out in this election year by the rash rhetoric of the right. Nevertheless, the minority view deserves a decent hearing before we go beyond the point of no return in a futile effort to establish a "superiority" of our own, rather than hewing to the strategic parity that has prevailed in recent years.
One f the more publicized planks in the Republican platform calls for a drive to overcome America's alleged military inferiority. The public, however, need not rely exclusively on this plank for guidance. Other -- more expert -- appaisals are available. Such as:
Gen. David Jones, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "There is too much pessimism about our current capability. I would not swap our present military capability with that of the Soviet Union, nor would I want to trade the broader problems each country faces."
Secretary of Defense Harold Brown: "We remain the military equal of or superior to the Soviet Union . . . Those who suggest the United States is weak and helpless not only are playing fast and loose with the truth, they are playing fast and loose with U.S. security."
Gen. Maxwell Taylor, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "I am concerned that too many people are downgrading our military . . . We ought to be standing up and saying we have a great definse so that neither the Soviets nor our people misunderstand that in four hours we can rain more destruction on that country than they experienced in four years of war."
Robert McNamara, president of the World Bank and former secretary of defense: "To the extent that military expenditure severely reduces the resources available for other esential sectors and social services -- and fuels a futile and reactive arms race -- execssive military spending can erode security rather than enhance it."
McGeorge Bundy, national security adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson: "It is a fundamental error to suppose that either side is likely to achieve a usable strategic superiority in the foreseeable future."
Cyrus Vance, former secreatary of state: "We must preserve a position of essential equivalence with the Soviet Union . . . It is native to believe that they -- any more than we -- would willingingly accept a position of second-best in military strength."
Retired admiral Gene LaRocque, director of Washington's Center for Defense Information: "In this presidential year, it's becoming fashionable to denigrate the power of our armed forces, but our study shows that the U.S. military is not weak or starved for funds. The United States and our allies are superior to the Soviet Union and its allies in practically all elements of national power, including most military factors."
The LaRocque study, just released, adds: "In 1980 the United States has 9,500 strategic nuclear weapons; the Soviets have 6,000. Other measures of strategic forces also favor the U.S. side: long-range bombers, submarine-launched nuclear weapons, overall accuracy and higher alert rates and readiness. The United States is far ahead of the Soviet Union in submarine warfare and anti-submarine forces."
Can it sanely be supposed that all these authorities, who have contributed so much to their country, would deliberately mislead the public and betray the nation's security? If we have come to that, can paranoia be far behind?
It was that state of mind that prompted Henry Kissinger, while secretary of state, to exclaim, "What in God's name is strategic superiority? What is the significance of it, politically, militarily, operationally, at these levels of numbers? What do you do with it?" Kissinger is still waiting for a rational answer.
It may be that, if he is elected, Ronald Reagan's military bark will turn out to be worse than his bite. That was the case with Richard Nixon. When Nixon was campaigning for the presidency in 1968, he, too, called for military "superiority," but once in office he settled for "parity" or, as he finally put it, "sufficiency."
Today, however, a resurgent Nixon, out to reclaim his old Cold War constituency, is topping even Reagan in calling for unprecedented military expenditures, while Jimmy Carter is allegedly letting America's guard down.
Who would guess, listening to Nixon now, that during his presidency America's military spending declined faster than under any other chief executive since World Ward II? The defense budget in real dollars dropped about 25 percent while Nixon was commander-in-chief. Since Charter took over, it has climbed by 10 percent in real terms and is still going up sharply.
There are laws against shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater, but unfortunately there is no way of restraining similar panic-making shouts about our national security.